Business owners who assume that risk management only applies to large corporates couldn’t be more wrong. It’s an area to which large organisations pay a good deal of attention and in which they invest a great deal of money, but in many ways SMEs are more vulnerable to risk than their corporate counterparts.
“The fact is that big corporations are often better able to absorb the effects of risk exposure. Most smaller companies simply do not have the capital to ride out the effects of exposure — one fraud, theft or significant loss of business continuity is often enough to destroy them,” says Wayne Malgas, case manager at Pasco Risk Management.
So while the scale of the risk might be different for corporates and SMEs, the fallout of not managing your business’s risks effectively can be the same or even greater if you’re a small company.
You can only manage what you know and understand, so the first step in proper risk management is to define your business’s risks. Risks can be defined as anything that could cause your business to lose money. While there are industry specific risks, a large percentage of business risks are common to all sectors. These include:
1. Operational risk
Probably the broadest area of risk, operational risk refers to a risk arising from the execution of a company’s business functions. This encompasses people, systems and processes, and includes other risk categories such as fraud, legal and environmental risks. Simply put, it is the risk of loss resulting from inadequate or failed internal processes, people and systems. However, because operational risk is so broad, many of the risk areas that, strictly speaking, fall within operational risk, are managed separately by companies. A good example is IT risk.
2. Credit risk
Bad debt represents a significant risk for SMEs that typically do not have the capital reserves to carry a large debtors’ book. Colin Hill, solution manager – Risk and Financial Crimes, at SAS Institute, points out, “For SMEs, credit risk is often impacted by whether your customers are getting paid by their own customers — if they aren’t, they typically don’t have the cash flow to pay you.”
3. Medical risk
Given the considerable risks associated with having employees who are not covered medically, there is increasing debate about whether companies should make medical cover compulsory. Employees without medical aid are more likely to wait until they are really ill before seeking medical intervention, which leads to more time off work. Their employer is also often the first place they turn to when they need a loan to cover medical expenses.
4. Reputational risk
“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently,” said Warren Buffett famously. Social media provides consumers with the power to do lasting damage to your brand, and the Consumer Protection Act has placed consumer rights top of mind.
5. IT risk
Typically IT risk includes loss of data and a break in business continuity when IT systems fail, but increasingly it also refers to the threat from cyber attacks. “We’re seeing a big spike in the cyber threat to businesses,” says Wayne Malgas, adding, “You can be sure that as big businesses increase their security and it becomes more difficult to break into their systems, hackers will look for softer targets like SMEs.”
6. Travel risk
Travel risks include health-related risks but also the often unforeseen risk of corporate kidnapping, particularly for companies looking to expand into volatile African and Asian countries.
7. Compliance risk
“In the past year alone businesses have had to deal with the likes of King III, the Property Act and the Consumer Protection Act,” says Colin Hill, pointing out that even SMEs need to familiarise themselves with the legislation that affects them — and make sure they put the necessary systems in place to comply. “There is no blueprint for risk identification — the most important thing is to have a detailed and intimate knowledge of your business and the environment in which you operate,” says Malgas.
Most business owners understand their business well enough to make a start at risk identification, while a risk expert can help you ensure you have included any unforeseen risks. A risk management specialist can also help you to put risk management systems in place but ultimately you need to ensure that the capacity for basic risk management is intrinsic to business processes. “It needs to be fully integrated in the daily running of your business. This will help to reduce dependency and contain costs, and ensure a sustainable risk management system for SMEs,” Malgas comments.
Risk identification needs to be chiefly forward-looking. “Yes you can learn from history but if you’re continually looking behind you, you’ll never see what’s about to hit you,” he says.
“The two biggest mistakes businesses make when it comes to managing risk is they are too complacent, and don’t put early warning systems in place to flag risks when they arise – this means they aren’t managing the risk itself, but rather the fall-out when it’s already occurred,” concludes Malgas.
Look To The Future
By protecting your employees, their future and their income, you’re also protecting your business says Walter van der Merwe, CEO of Fedgroup Life.
It’s proven that staff members perform better when you show them how valued they are. But, investing in your staff members’ futures goes above and beyond the bottom line.
Staff members value recognition for the contributions they make to the business. However, this does not necessarily need to take the form of financial rewards or incentives. As an employer, you can demonstrate your employees’ value to the firm through appropriate insurance cover in the form of comprehensive employee benefits, which show that you’ve considered their long-term wellbeing and that of their family.
Of course, there is a financial commitment on the part of the employer to contribute towards insurance cover, but this goes towards the future prosperity of staff members, rather than an immediate financial benefit. Employee benefits offer security against the possibility that something detrimental will happen, and in instances where the benefit is needed, will have a lasting effect on their lives.
Ensuring that staff members have the financial means to get the best standard of medical care and treatment following injury or illness, will increase the likelihood that they will make a full recovery, and within a shorter period of time. This will enable them to possibly return to work sooner, with full capacity to continue contributing meaningfully to the business and adding value. In this way, employee benefits demonstrate to staff members that they are a significant and considered part of the business, not only at the present point in time, but also for the long term, and they also ensure a degree of business continuity — particularly key employees.
Loss of income
The biggest risk for every employee is a loss of income. Whether their incapacitation results from an injury or illness, an inability to generate an income to support their lifestyle and their family will severely impact an employee’s quality of life. This loss of financial security is therefore the most consequential risk that should be protected against through appropriate forms of insurance, such as lump sum or annuity income protection products.
Another pertinent risk that business owners should address is the need for adequate life cover. Should an employee, who is possibly the primary breadwinner of a family, pass away, their surviving dependents may be left destitute without their financial support. Employee benefits that include a life insurance component will ensure the financial wellbeing of family members left behind in the event of an employee’s untimely death.
Another important risk factor to consider is the threat of chronic or severe illness, and the high costs generally associated with treatment. As employees age they become more susceptible to various types of illnesses. In instances where they fall chronically ill, they require the financial means to cover their medical costs, and generally require time away from work to recover. This is why dread disease or critical illness cover is another vital component of a comprehensive employee benefits scheme.
Choosing the right provider
When structuring employee benefits there are certain principles that should be applied, regardless of the size of company, or the income of the staff and their socio-economic circumstances.
Foremost among these is the selection of an employee benefits provider, along with the appropriate products and the associated cost implications. This role is best fulfilled by qualified, experienced and independent financial advisors who can offer unbiased advice. These trained and certified experts are able to advise employers on how best to support their staff members through the implementation of suitable employee benefit schemes by recommending the most appropriate solution structure, based on factors such as the gender, age, role and income of employees, and their financial responsibilities. This information helps advisors to select the best mix of products that offer suitable cover to meet the unique needs of the employer and their employees, while also considering affordability.
From a personal perspective, every employee gets peace of mind knowing they are protected should they no longer be able to work, or get sick, and that there are financial provisions in place for their family should they pass away. While they contribute a small premium, they will receive an outsized financial benefit should they claim in comparison to the immediate cost.
As it relates to the business, providing comprehensive employee benefits positions the company as an employer of choice, because the organisation shows that it cares for its staff. It also demonstrates that the employer considers their staff to be valuable, which is a powerful means to attract and retain the best talent.
Protect the future
The human psyche is hardwired to choose instant gratification over receiving a potentially greater reward or benefit sometime in the future. People generally tend to discount the value of rewards they’ll receive in the distant future due to a disconnect between what the present self believes will benefit the future self. In this model there is an opportunity cost involved in relation to what someone could afford now by rather spending the insurance premium on items or services that satisfy their more immediate needs.
This is the fundamental reason why insurance is considered a grudge purchase. We ultimately pay a premium every month towards an intangible benefit that will only be realised if and when a claim is made. And, in the case of insurance, that benefit is only realised when something horrible happens — another reason people shy away from examining this basket of products.
The best way to combat this innate psychological reasoning is through continued education, which can help people understand the purpose and the prolific impact that insurance will have on their lives should they ever need to claim. This requires contextualising the possible implications for an individual five to ten years from now, illustrating in real-world terms how different their situation could be in a worst-case scenario, both with and without appropriate insurance. This is a stark but effective means to demonstrate the need for adequate cover.
How To Choose The Right Group Risk Cover For Your Business
Your clients and business partners are likely to be your main focus when you start out as an entrepreneur. But as your venture grows into a fully operative business of scale, your employees will matter just as much. That’s why it’s important to ensure you provide adequate employee benefits, and when it comes to group risk cover, it’s becoming increasingly important to find a solution that matches the needs of everyone in the business.
It’s no secret that the world of work, as we know it, is changing. In a 2017 employee benefits study, US insurer MetLife found that 58% of employees surveyed “want customised benefit options based on their personal information”. And according to the same study, 73% of employees believe their employer is responsible for employees’ health and financial wellbeing. And in spite of this expectation, modern employees are unlikely to stay with the same employers for very long, because technology continues to create new opportunities.
It is within this context that it’s important for you, the business owner, to make your business as attractive as possible by offering your employees benefits that truly match their needs. Start by thinking of yourself as a custodian of their financial security. And in terms of group risk cover, the financial security not only lies in the cover itself, but in offering benefits that add real value to your employees’ financial planning – especially when you consider that it is your employees who are contributing towards their cover.
Why do you need group risk cover for your business?
Employers buy group risk cover for the people in the company to cover their future pay cheques in case something happens where they can’t work before they retire.
But this, unfortunately, is not the case with traditional group risk products, which typically offer blunt amounts of cover that is equal to, for example, three years of pay cheques for everyone in the company – irrespective of how many pay cheques they have left before retirement. As a result of this approach, younger people in the company have less cover compared to what they need, relative to their older colleagues who have fewer pay cheques left
Traditional group risk products also offer very little flexibility, leaving employees with little, or no option to buy more cover above what employers secured. They also don’t offer a choice between lump-sum or recurring payouts when members claim, or always secure the ability to take their cover with them, should they decide to leave the company.
So how will you know you’ve selected the right cover?
Start by asking your financial adviser to look out for a product that works out how many pay cheques each employee needs to cover, and then gives every person in the company the same level of cover in proportion to the amount of pay cheques left until retirement. By following this approach, your employees’ cover will provide more people in the company with much more cover. There already are forward-thinking group risk cover providers in the market that manage to offer up to 50% more cover by following this approach.
Secondly, ask your financial adviser if your employees will be able to buy more cover over and above what you secured. There are innovative products on the market that offer up to double the cover free of underwriting, which enables your employees to benefit from the insurability you’re providing them, and to close gaps in their insurance.
And – in the spirit of the modern world of work with a more mobile workforce – these innovative products enable employees to take the cover with them when they decide to leave your company.
It’s also important to ask your financial adviser if your employees will be able to choose between a lump sum and recurring pay-outs when they claim. Traditional group risk policies tend to expect employers to make one choice between lump sum or recurring payouts on behalf of all of their employees when they take out the cover. Forward thinking cover providers have turned this approach on its head, offering employees the option to choose between recurring or lump sum payouts when they claim.
The importance of claims certaintly should never be understated, starting with obtaining a clear picture of the clinical conditions the group risk cover actually covers. There are new players in the market that provide extensive and transparent lists of clinical claims conditions for additional expense needs, covering more than 200 conditions.
And exactly how permanent does the insurer view a claim for a permanent condition? For example, if an employee is to be diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, will he or she receive a 100% payout on diagnosis, without the prospect of ongoing reassessment? A needs-matched product offering would never require the reassessment of permanent expense needs claims.
In conclusion …
You wouldn’t expect your employees to work under dangerous conditions. So why would you select a group risk product that will not serve in their best interests when they need it most? That’s where needs-matched group risk cover comes to the rescue – not only for your employees, but also for your business by providing security and benefits offering real value in the modern world of work.
How to Take Risks That Win (Almost) Every Time
Knowing which risks to take, and how to take them, can be extremely helpful in stacking the odds in your favour.
Looking 13,000 feet down out of an airplane, parachute pack secured, your heart beating in your throat, must be one of the most terrifying experiences imaginable. Though not all risks are life-threatening, all risks are frightening. As humans, we’re constantly afraid of failure, of doing something wrong and of having to deal with the consequences. Yet, at the same time, there is nothing more rewarding than reaping the benefits of a risk gone right – of landing safely ground, to build the earlier metaphor.
For entrepreneurs, risk taking is a necessity of the job. After all, we’re never quite positive that things are going to work out the way we envision. We make choices daily which affect our business, and we can never be absolutely sure that we’re making the right ones.
Knowing which risks to take, and how to take them, can be extremely helpful in stacking the odds in your favour. While risks are unavoidable, approaching them strategically can be the best way to decrease your parachute’s chances of failing, so to speak, and to produce measurable results that you would never have achieved had you avoided the risk in the first place.
In order to hone your risk-taking skills, here are some guidelines:
1. Information is your friend
The more knowledge you have about any given topic, the less risky your endeavours will ultimately be. For example, many of the most steadily successful brokers on Wall Street are those who understand the patterns of the market better than anyone else. While there are always going to be those people who make millions off a risky uninformed bet, they are the same people who most likely will lose all their earnings on a single trade. Traders who build a sustainable career for themselves are the ones that have deep knowledge of the industry.
Similarly, you should be an expert in your field. You should know your industry well – your product or service you are providing. You should understand the buying patterns of consumers, their motivation and pain points. What drives them to buy your products? Where and when do they buy? What makes them stop buying?
As an entrepreneur – or in any profession that requires risks, really – you’ll want to have as much information as possible. The more you know, the fewer unknowns there are. The unknowns, ultimately, are what makes an action risky.
2. Assess the risk carefully
While risk is a reality of life, there is also something to be said for strong assessment skills. Being able to look at a risky situation and decide whether or not it’s worth taking is a hallmark of a good businessperson.
Venture capital investors, for example, spend their entire careers deciding which companies are worth risking time and money on. Those who throw their money around recklessly, while admirable for their risk-taking, are not necessarily the most successful investors.
Being a good risk-taker involves using the information you have to assess a situation and decide whether or not the risk is worth it.
3. Learn from failure
Appreciate that all risks are learning experiences. Especially those that don’t pan out.
On some accounts, failure is actually more valuable than success. While failures may not lead to an increase in your bottom line, you can use the opportunity to glean important information about what you’ve done wrong, where you misstepped and how you can move forward in the future.
The biggest mistake many people make is seeing failure as a measure of who they are, rather than a measure of where they can go. We’ve all heard that failure is feedback. Most successful entrepreneurs failed at many ventures before they created that million-dollar offering. Most overnight successes took many years to make. If you take a risk and fail, learn from it. Ask yourself what you can do differently next time, and then move on. The only failure is not learning the lesson that it provides and using it to hone your next endeavour.
According to Mark Zuckerberg, “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”
Taking risks is the only way to go from here to there. Even failed risks move you closer to your goals if you can turn that failure into valuable learning and a plan for improve your results next time.
This article was originally posted here on Entrepreneur.com.